Unlocking $200B for food and agribusinesses

The Australian Food and Agribusiness sector is set to unlock over $200B in value and 300,000 jobs by 2030. But we need you to make it happen.
Despite the extraordinary challenges and disruption this past year has presented Australia’s food and agribusiness sector – its future is immensely positive.

Read more

FIAL announces $500,000 fund to support food and agribusiness innovation

From low-sugar beverages to energy-efficient technologies and snacks from sustainable food sources, Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) has supported a rich and diverse range of innovation projects in Australian food and agribusinesses.

This grassroots involvement has given FIAL a front-row seat to knowing that innovation is central to the sector’s continued growth. Particularly in light of the current challenges affecting Australia – drought, flood, fire, and viral epidemics.

FIAL has announced its Black Summer Innovation Fund – providing $500,000 to support innovation in Australian food and agribusinesses impacted by recent events like the bush fires and summer storms.

“Backing Australian food and agribusinesses from the bottom-up during times of adversity is crucial,” said FIAL managing director, Dr. Mirjana Prica.

FIAL’s Black Summer Innovation Fund will provide businesses with up to $25,000 to support the development of new products and services. This fund is unique in that businesses are not required to match the value of grant awarded. It aims to encourage food and agribusinesses to think differently about their challenges, using innovation to supercharge their business.

Businesses can partner with technical experts and researchers across the sector to identify commercially relevant innovation opportunities. These could be the development of novel food processing, packaging and agricultural technologies for their new future.

Australian food and agribusinesses owners who have been negatively affected by events of national natural catastrophe or global diseases outbreaks in 2019 or 2020 are encouraged to apply today by visiting here.

Nominations sought for 2019 agribusiness leadership awards

Some of the biggest names in agribusiness in Australia and New Zealand have been recognised for their leadership in the sector – and this year two more will join their ranks, with nominations now open for the 2019 Rabobank Leadership Awards.

Last year, the two industry accolades, the Rabobank Leadership Award for an accomplished senior leader and the Rabobank Emerging Leader Award for an up-and-coming younger leader, went respectively to chief executive officer of Nuffield International, Jim Geltch, and AACo chief operating officer Anna Speer. Both winners were acknowledged for their outstanding achievement in – and contribution to – the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.

Announcing the opening of nominations for the 2019 awards, Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group managing director, Peter Knoblanche, said this year, for the first time in the trans-Tasman award’s history, the presentation ceremony would be held in New Zealand.
“In the 20 years we have been involved in the awards, leaders have been recognised on both sides of the Tasman in sectors including wine, dairy, beef, grains and horticulture and across many fields, such as scientists, economists, educators and researchers,” he said.

“The contribution these leaders have made to their own industries, the agricultural sector in general, and their communities is nothing short of inspirational. Their leadership, courage, passion and foresight has seen them carve a path, as they often take the road not travelled to get to where they are today.

“This was epitomised by last year’s winners, with Jim Geltch recognised for developing and engaging young people in agriculture via the Nuffield agricultural scholarships. While Anna Speer has, in her relatively short tenure in the industry, carved a successful career in the livestock sector as an advocate for innovation and change.”

As peer-nominated awards, Knoblanche encouraged industry participants to put forward those in their industry who make a positive contribution to the future growth and prosperity of the sector.

“There are many unsung heroes in the agricultural sector, and these awards not only bring their business successes to the forefront, but all the initiatives they are involved in at a community and industry level,” he said.

Award nominations close on August 9, 2019 with the winner to be announced at the annual Leadership Award dinner, to be held in Auckland on Thursday, November 28, 2019.
Nominations for both awards

Bumper harvest for rural jobs as agriculture sector ploughs ahead

Queensland’s agriculture sector is growing jobs as well as sugar cane, chickpeas and avocados.

Despite the drought affecting large parts of the state, there’s been a rich harvest of new employment opportunities in agriculture, forestry and fishing in the past 12 months.

Agriculture minister Mark Furner said the sector had created 10,500 new jobs between June 2017 and June 2018.

“The latest Labour Force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows primary production in Queensland continues to do much more than put food on our plates,” said Furner.

READ: Sheep and cattle slaughter increases to reduce stock numbers during drought

“The new high growth crop for Queensland’s farms is jobs and that’s because our producers and food sector businesses are working hard to take advantage of new opportunities. It is also because the programs put in place by the Palaszczuk government are working,” he said.

Creating jobs for Queenslanders was the government’s highest priority.

“Our produce has a fantastic reputation for quality and reliability both at home and abroad. That is why it is in demand and our farmers are meeting that demand,” said Furner.

The agriculture industry continued to grow on the back of technological advances and the courting of expanding Asian export markets, he said.

“The Palaszczuk government has invested tens of millions of dollars to ensure the produce we send overseas is not only of the highest quality but is also tailored to specific regional tastes, whether that be in markets in Japan or supermarket shelves in Indonesia,” he said.

“We have also continued to support the Queensland Agriculture Workers Network (QAWN) and Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance to support and facilitate employment opportunities for people in rural and regional parts of the state.

“In this year’s budget more than $3 million was allocated to these programs to continue the good work being done in this area,” said Furner.

Carl Walker, president of Bowen Gumlu Growers Association and owner of Phantom Produce, said QAWN was playing an important role in helping producers to expand their workforces.

It assisted growers in the North Queensland region to connect with the available employment and training initiatives, he said.

“As farmers we are able to go about our core business of growing fruit and vegetables, QAWN provides us with an essential information resource to help us to attract and employ people with the right skills and attributes at all stages of the season,” said Walker.

Rabobank appoints new group executive with extensive knowledge of food and agribusiness sector

Rabobank Australia and New Zealand has appointed Karin van Selm as group executive for wholesale banking.

In her current role, as the bank’s general manager of corporate banking, van Selm provides for the increasingly complex requirements of Rabobank’s large corporate clients operating in the food and agribusiness sector.

She’s worked in her current role with Rabobank since January 2016.

Rabobank Australia and New Zealand managing director Peter Knoblanche said van Selm was ideally placed to take on the position of group executive to ensure a seamless continuation of the expansion and development of Rabobank’s wholesale banking operation.

READ: Shift in rankings of companies listed in Rabobank Global Dairy Top 20

“Karin has extensive experience and exceptional understanding of the corporate banking needs of major companies involved in the food and agricultural sector,” said Knoblanche.

Rabobank is one of Australia’s largest agricultural banks and a major provider of specialist corporate financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector.

Van Selm worked in structured finance at ING Barings, before moving to Australia in 2005, from the Netherlands.

She then joined Westpac, where she worked in various roles in the banking consumer and agribusiness team.

She holds a Master of Laws, specialising in international tax and economics.

Van Selm said the future opportunities for Australia and New Zealand’s corporate food and agribusiness were exciting, with both countries producing world-class agricultural produce and with rapidly-growing export markets.

“That said, businesses in the F&A sector are challenged to remain competitive in the various commodity markets, faced with increasing costs of labour, water, energy and insurance, as well as stricter regulatory environments,” she said.

“Rabobank, with its both global and local reach in food and agriculture, and its deep understanding of the various segments of the agri market, is well positioned to enable, facilitate and connect our clients in the value chain and support them with their growth ambitions,” said van Selm.

She will start the new role on the 1st of August, taking over from Els Kamphof, who has been appointed to head the regional wholesale banking operations in the Netherlands and Africa.


NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

The NSW government has released a $500 million emergency drought relief package as 99 per cent of NSW is in drought.

This takes the total support to more than $1 billion, as farmers struggle with the worsening drought.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said farmers were facing one of the driest winters on record, resulting in failing crops, drastic water shortages and a diminishing supply of fodder to sustain livestock.

Farmers had told Berejiklian they needed urgent help, she said.

READ: Dry weather in Australia significantly impacting crops

“To date we have already committed $584m in drought support, most of which is focused on preparation for drought conditions. However, conditions are now so dire that further support is needed to address the more immediate needs for farmers and their communities until the drought breaks.”

The major feature of the emergency relief package is about $190m for the introduction of drought transport subsidies.

The subsidies cover up to 50 per cent of the full cost of transporting fodder, water for stock and livestock to pasture, slaughter or sale.

The NSW government will offer a transport subsidy of up to $20,000 per farm business.

The relief measure will also be back-dated so farmers can access additional subsidies for freight expenses incurred since January 1, 2018.

Deputy premier and minister for regional NSW, John Barilaro, said the drought had quickly worsened across the state because June and July were drier than expected.

Farmers are sourcing fodder from interstate, as local supply has deteriorated.

“We said we would constantly reassess the conditions and relief measures, and the fact we’ve now increased our drought-relief package to over $1b is a reflection of how serious this drought is, and how much we value the health and wellbeing of our farming and regional communities,” said Barilaro.

“We have backdated this relief measure to the start of the year when the drought intensified, especially in the Upper Hunter and Western NSW. This means eligible farmers who made the decision to destock earlier this year will still benefit from this new relief package.”

Minister for primary industries Niall Blair said waivers were in place on local land services annual rates, fixed charges on water licences, registration costs for class one agricultural vehicles, and interest on existing farm innovation fund loans.

“We know many families are also having to bring in water for domestic use, which is why we have also set aside additional funding for this essential service. The package we have has to be fair, it has to be equitable and it has to be able to be adapted to all types of farming businesses right across NSW.”

Corangamite Shire’s agribusiness sector gets funding boost from government

Corangamite Shire’s agribusiness sector is getting a funding boost from the Victorian state government.

On Wednesday, Minister for agriculture, Jaala Pulford, announced a $260,000 investment from the government for three projects in Corangamite as part of the Local Roads to Market program.

The Corangamite upgrades are three of 39 projects worth $24 million that will be delivered under the second round of the program.

Pulford said the program supported communities that relyed on farming to ensure produce was delivered to market safe and on time.

READ: Wimmera Mallee road upgrades boost agribusiness in Vic

“These investments will boost the productivity farm businesses and their supply chains and put them in a better position to compete in international markets,” she said.

The grant, along with a co-investment from Corangamite Shire Council and industry, will fund infrastructure upgrades to enable and improve the access for heavy vehicle freight from the farmgate to arterial roads.

The three projects include a $200,000 upgrade to the intersection of North Robilliards Road and Timboon-Nullawarre Rd, which will allow heavy vehicles and traffic to safely navigate the intersection.

The project will also install an advanced warning signal to improve road visibility and safety for milk transport.

Tomahawk Creek Rd, up to the farmgate of Heytesbury Stockfeeds, will be widened and sealed for $40,000 and $20,000 will go to upgrading the intersection at Noskin and Browns Rd for heavy vehicle freight from Timboon Goat Farm.

Gayle Tierney, a member for Western Victoria, said the upgrades would improve agribusiness and supply chain productivity, as well as the country road network for all users.

Drone and sensor technology coming to Australian farming

Australia’s agriculture sector will benefit from the use of the latest digital technology including drones and long-range sensors as part of a new industry partnership.

Agribusiness, Ruralco, has linked up with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop data-driven solutions for more efficient and sustainable farming.

Around $1.5 billion is invested each year in agricultural and rural R&D in Australia and contributes towards an annual 2.8 per cent productivity growth over the past three decades.

Through a series of projects to be rolled out in coming months, the partnership will draw on CSIRO’s expertise in data science research and engineering, and a proven track record of agricultural innovation.

Combined with Ruralco’s on-ground network, the partnership offers potential to deliver new digital solutions to farmers throughout the country.

The joint areas of focus for CSIRO and Ruralco will include:

  • Exploring the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness
  • Nutrient and fertiliser management in areas of high conservation value, such as the Great Barrier Reef
  • The development of long-range sensing to automate and streamline operations, including water management, livestock safety and security
  • Adaptation of geospatial tools to provide an interface between Ruralco customers and their advisers, making use of real time data for improved decision making and planning.

Travis Dillon, CEO and managing director of Ruralco, said he was delighted to be working with CSIRO to improve farm practices and better manage the environment.

“Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture,” he said. “Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as: effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat bio-security issues such as invasive species and pest infestation.

Ruralco is well positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets. Aligned with American company PrecisionHawk, farmer-friendly apps also analyse agricultural data in the US, South America and Europe.

Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO’s data innovation group Data61, said that his team has deep, globally recognised capability in robotics, remote sensing and data analytics.

“This partnership is an example of us teaming up with Australian industry to help them capitalise on the next computing cycle, at the intersection of data and domains like agriculture,” he said.

“Our work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems and decision sciences will all play a role.

“Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances. More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure and trusted.

Agriculture in Australia­ a sector that has always embraced innovation­ is worth more than $50 billion and grew by $3.1 billion in 2015-16.

Dr Dave Henry, digital agriculture lead with CSIRO, said he was looking forward to working with Ruralco on furthering digital agriculture to support the continued growth of Australian agribusiness.

“It’s early days with the use of drones in agriculture and this partnership with Ruralco will allow us to explore and quantify those situations where the use of drones will aid farmer decision-making in livestock and cropping,” said Dr Henry.

Australian agriculture looking good, for now

Australian agriculture looks positioned for an overall positive 2017, with a new report from Rabobank expecting relatively “smooth sailing ahead” for most commodities, but warning there are “potential storm clouds gathering on the horizon”.

In its flagship annual Agribusiness Outlook, the food and agribusiness banking specialist says “in most regards”, Australia’s agricultural sector is poised for a good year, with factors in its favour including a projected rise in global economic growth and farmgate prices for most livestock and crops expected to come in above their five-year averages.

Report lead author, RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness general manager Tim Hunt (pictured) said other positive factors included high dam levels, neutral climate indicators and strong on- farm confidence.

“Key dam levels are high following a wet 2016, ensuring good supply and lower pricing for irrigation water in most regions,” he said, “while El Niño–Southern Oscillation climate indications are at this stage neutral.

“While on-farm, confidence levels are strong among producers and their investment intentions are increasing.”

The report does qualify the optimistic view however, noting that the market for grains and oilseeds remains an exception, in particular for wheat.

“Ample global supplies look set to limit any improvement in wheat prices this year, though a large Australian 2016/17 crop has at least partly offset the revenue damage,” Hunt said.

And it’s not all positive news for the sector looking out further, with “some storm clouds gathering on the horizon that will bring at best uncertainty and at worst the prospect of significant turbulence in years to come, in particular on the economic and regulatory fronts”, the Agribusiness Outlook warns.

The Trump effect

The commencement of the Trump presidency brings with it some potential near-term benefit, but considerable uncertainty and concern for the medium-term, the report says.

“There is potential, particularly in 2017, for Australian agriculture to benefit in some regards from the new administration,” said Hunt.

But more generally, he said, the new US administration brings with it a “huge degree of uncertainty about what will be implemented, and its impact on the global economy and geopolitics”.

“The TPP in its current form is already dead, taking the incremental gains in market access it included for products like beef, dairy and sugar off the table,” Hunt said.

Protectionism and political tension

More broadly, the report says, the policies of the Trump administration may contribute to a rising trend in protectionism already evident in recent years in many parts of the world – from which Australia, as an export-oriented agricultural producer, has much to lose.

The potential for political tension between the US and China (two of Australia’s largest trading partners) is also high.

Well placed

Releasing the report, Rabobank Australia national manager Country Banking Todd Charteris noted that the Australian food and agri sector would need to work to ensure it managed this period of uncertainty and potential turbulence, as well as it could.

“As the report finds, this will include seeing if anything can be salvaged from the ashes of the TPP and advancing bilateral trade agreements (including positioning for a FTA with the UK when it leaves the EU). And beyond the trade realm, securing partnerships and stable routes to market will be more important than ever,” he said.

“At the very least, Australian agriculture should enter any potential storm in generally good shape. And turbulence can bring opportunities as well as threats.”

​Food for thought for Australian agribusiness industry

A select group of Australian agribusiness industry leaders has begun a trade mission with the AICC NSW to discover more about  Israel’s world-leading technologies in the agri-food space.

Peter Schutz (pictured), Chairman of Food Innovation Australia, will be leading the delegates, including AICC NSW CEO, Michelle Blum, on a trip that will take in Israel’s dynamic, innovative and commercially successful land-based business ecosystem first-hand.

Israel is recognised globally for its world-class agricultural management, manufacturing capabilities and sustainable approach to food farming practices. The aim of the mission is to expand collaborative ‘farm to fork’ agribusiness links between Australia and Israel.

Delegates will also gain a better understanding of Israel’s cluster methodologies, government support policies, and how universities and researchers work collaboratively along the value chain.

The trade mission aligns with the Internet of Things (IoT) and AgriTech Summit in September, where the Chamber joined forces with KPMG to host an event which brought industry leaders together to share insights and learnings around Australia’s agri-ecosystem, and what needs to be done locally to capitalise on new opportunities arising from agtech.

“The highly successful Summit indicated the need for first-hand insights into Israel’s unique ecosystem, with the rising market interest in agtech in Australia. It was clear that a visit to Israel would provide a significant opportunity for agri-industry leaders to get immersed in some of the world’s best agtech innovations,” said AICC NSW CEO, Michelle Blum.

“There is also no doubt that the Chamber’s trade mission delegates gain incredibly valuable learnings, life-changing experiences and wonderful opportunities for business collaboration and partnerships from their visits to Israel,” Ms Blum added.

The Chamber looks forward to sharing the Agri-Food Trade Mission outcomes when the delegate return in early December.

SAI Global appoints new food safety expert

SAI Global has announced the appointment of Dawn Welham as Global Technical Director and Thought Leader, continuing to expand its expertise in Retail, Food and Agribusiness industries.

With a wealth of experience across food product safety, public health, consumer protection and occupational health and safety, Dawn will use her expertise across 100 countries, with a focus in Asia-Pacific, the Americas and Europe, and continue growing the company's capabilities in product safety.

Businesses are focusing more on embedding product safety processes and culture as food provenance, safety and integrity become more important to consumers.

According to Dawn, SAI Global is taking a leading role in providing risk management solutions to Retail, Food and Agribusiness industries, to ensure product integrity and safety.

"True technical leadership is about putting systems in place to make sure customers get what they pay for. They pay for quality, legality and safety, and my new role will be focused on all aspects of this compliance for many large businesses around the world," Welham said

"An effective technical system is one which takes the complexity out of compliance, but also creates a competitive advantage for the business. This is paramount to the way SAI Global works and is the part that makes my new role very rewarding and exciting."

$4 billion investment announced in Agriculture White Paper

Biosecurity, international trade and supply chain transparency are some of the priorities of the Agriculture White Paper.

The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper pledged $200 million funding increase for biosecurity across Australia to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis nationally, including in northern Australia.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said “this $200 million over four years will improve our ability to understand, detect and respond to pests and diseases that could hurt our farmers, rural communities, agricultural productivity and economy.”

"It will build intelligence and scientific expertise and put more boots on the ground. It will also support development in the north and ensure the northern barrier remains intact.

The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper also provides an additional $12.4 million over four years to modernise Australia's traceability systems. This will provide even greater assurance that the agricultural goods we send to trading partners can be traced quickly to the point of origin so the source of any disease or residue contamination can be effectively managed.

International Trade

The investment in biosecurity is part of a plan to help farmers’ access premium markets.

The government has also pledged $30.8 million ​to break down technical barriers to trade and appointing five new Agriculture Counsellors.

There will be an additional $12.4 million to modernise Australia’s food export traceability systems to further enhance our food safety credentials.

Supply chain transparency

The White Paper commits $11.4 million to establish an ACCC Commissioner dedicated to agriculture as well as supporting capability at the ACCC concerned with agriculture supply chain issues.

"Many stakeholders were concerned with the lack of transparency in supply chains and the anti-competitive distortions that can result—all too often to the detriment of our farmers," Joyce said.

"The new Commissioner, combined with the new dedicated agricultural-focus of the ACCC, will give the ACCC additional agricultural skills and knowledge to address the concerns of farmers.

"These new resources will enable ACCC staff to attend the saleyards or visit farmers to see the market in action and gather necessary evidence.

The government has also put forward $13.8 million towards educating farmers and providing them with materials on alternative business models like cooperatives and collective bargaining.

"Knowledge is power. A strong supply chain advocate, proactive ACCC investigations and information on alternative business structures will go a long way to reducing farmers' vulnerability to the market power that can be wielded by large processors or retail chains.

"These measures, combined with work this government already has in train through our forthcoming response to the Competition Policy Review; the current review of the Horticulture Code of Conduct; and the establishment of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, show we are serious about ensuring our farmers get a fair deal for their efforts.

Better regulation

The White Paper announced it will be reducing red tape from the economy by $1 billion a year.

$20.4 million has been allocated to further streamline agricultural and veterinary chemicals approvals. Farmers will get access to new farm chemicals more quickly, reducing the cost of doing business.

The Australian Government also reiterated its commitment to improve country of origin labelling.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said considerable public interest in the issue made it clear that consumers wanted to know whether the products they were buying were sourced locally or from overseas.

The Australian Government is currently consulting with industry and the community about the best way forward before engaging with state and territory governments.

The White Paper was informed by stakeholder consultation—more than 1000 submissions were received and the government talked face-to-face with more than 1100 people across the country in developing this document. The White Paper is available at agwhitepaper.agriculture.gov.au.


Methyl Bromide: its use in keeping Australian strawberries clean

Yes, methyl bromide is a very effective fumigant and ozone depleter, but it’s playing a big role in keeping Australia’s strawberries disease-free.

“The strawberry fruit industry has absolutely nothing to do with methyl bromide. Absolutely nothing,” says George Weda, managing director of Toolangi Certified Strawberry Runner Growers Cooperative in Victoria.

“We are strawberry plant propagators; we grow strawberry plants and as part of that production cycle, we use a fumigant called methyl bromide. We use that under a Critical Use Nomination, from the United Nations, The Montreal Protocol,” Weda says.

Recent attention on the use of the fumigant in the Toolangi region has led some to assume that the strawberries, too, must be toxic.

But the gas is being used to fumigate the soil and is not used on the strawberry fruit.

“Methyl bromide is only used to fumigate the soil prior to growing the strawberry mother plants that produce the runners, which are then bare rooted and transported to another site to replant, which will, some 6 months later bear marketable fruit, the whole process takes over 18 months from the time of the soil fumigation,” says Kevin Bartolo, Australia/Pacific Region manager for Mebrom. Mebrom is one of the companies that imports methyl bromide into Australia for Quarantine and Pre-shipment use only, which is exempt from any bans or restrictions under the Montreal Protocol.

“So there’s no connection between methyl bromide used under the Critical Use Exemption to fumigate the soil for runner production and the fruit itself. Absolutely none,” he says.

“Under normal circumstances, methyl bromide doesn’t taint food. There are set Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) and technically those limits should never be breached because we’ve found that you would probably have to treat at relatively high dose rates, three times, before you even start approaching those MRL limits. Realistically, you only have to treat once with methyl bromide.”

In the case of the Toolangi certified strawberry runner growers, Weda says licenced contractors are brought in for the fumigation around April/May.

Once the gas is injected into the soil, it is immediately covered in plastic, trapping the gas. The gas then kills off soil pathogens and breaks down. After a week or so, the plastic is removed.

“To be absolutely on the safe side, within two or three weeks you could plant stuff in and it would grow, but if you were to pull the plastic off and plant immediately afterwards, there’s still residues in the soil and it would kill your plant,” Weda says.

The soil is then left until about August/September, when the strawberry “mother plant” is planted.

Those plants then grow and produce strawberry runners. One mother plant might make 100 “daughters” (the plants that come from strawberry runners) and those daughters are harvested the following April. Those plants are then sold to the fruit growers, who plant them in April/May and they will then get fruit from those anywhere from two months later.

Methyl bromide and the environment

Methyl bromide is an extremely effective broad spectrum fumigant which is used to treat against pests and diseases such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes and insects.

But is also very effective in destroying stratospheric ozone. In fact, it is 60 times more effective than the other major ozone depleter, stratospheric chlorine.[1]

Under the Montreal Protocol, Australia agreed to phase out methyl bromide. From 1 January, 2005, all uses of the chemical, other than for quarantine and pre shipment (QPS) or feedstock applications were prohibited in Australia. However, some 'critical use exemptions' have been allowed by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and can be granted to sectors where there are no technically or economically feasible alternatives to methyl bromide.

And that’s where the strawberry runner growers at Toolangi, in Victoria's Yarra Valley come in. Each year the strawberry runner growers have to apply for critical use exemption.

The strawberry runners in the Yarra Valley are planted in a very heavy soil and according to Bartolo, “to date, there are no registered fumigants out there that have proven to be totally effective. It’s used on the soil only, to control macrophomina and fusarium and other fungal diseases primarily, plus if there happens to be nematodes there and exerts good control on those diseases which, if not controlled, they would literally decimate the industry.” 

The remainder of methyl bromide use in Australia is under quarantine direction on items such as imported or exported grains, imported fruit and timber, where there is deemed to be a quarantine risk.

Why not phase it out completely?

While there are alternatives to methyl bromide, they are not as effective.

“A lot of countries around the world are signatories to the Montreal Protocol so they’ve undertaken to phase out methyl bromide when a suitable alternative for each industry can be identified and used,” Weda says.

“We’ve been looking for over 15 years now…all around the world the strawberry fruit growers and the strawberry runner growers have been looking for alternatives and there isn’t one out there which is as good as methyl bromide, so we can still use it under this critical use nomination.

“If they were to take it away from us tomorrow, we just would not be able to produce the healthy plants that we do now, which means yields would go down, which means we couldn’t supply the fruit growers with a top class, A-grade, healthy plant. It would have some disease on it because there’s nothing else to control the disease like we’re doing now.

“The fruit grower would get those plants already with some level of disease in them so therefore their production would go down, and there’s potential we would get more imports from overseas. Fruit would have the potential to come in from overseas and ironically, most of those strawberries would have been grown on fumigated soil with methyl bromide.”

One alternative to methyl bromide for soil fumigation doesn’t work in heavy soils.

“For the strawberry runner producers there’s not much point in applying a chemical if it’s not going to work in heavy soils,” Bartolo says.

“You’ve got to balance the good with the bad. It’s no good looking at something and saying ‘that’s toxic’ and it’s a dangerous chemical. Well unfortunately, if you want to kill bacteria, diseases, insects and nematodes, you’ve got to have something that does kill. At this stage there isn’t much of an option. People are looking at other options but over the 20 years there have been lots that have come and gone…but the reality is, sooner or later along the line, resistance raises its head. Once you have resistance issues for a given chemical, it ceases to be fully effective.

“At the current stage, without there being a viable alternative, which the chemical industry have been looking for a viable alternative for 20 years now, [a complete phase out] would probably lead to an outbreak or spread of macrophomina and fusarium, wilt diseases in strawberries, which would literally decimate the industry. It basically would take them to the point where they would lose viability and probably end up destroying the industry.

“It’s a matter of balancing the good that methyl bromide has done against the environmental consequences. We know now that the environmental consequences are minimal,” he says.

According to a CSIRO report (Methyl Bromide: Past, Present & Future Impacts on Stratospheric Ozone) provided to Food Magazine by Bartolo, future regulation of the remaining methyl bromide production/consumption in fumigation will have little impact on ozone recovery.

The report suggests that if as of 1 January, 2015, there was zero production or emissions of methyl bromide from fumigation, the ozone would recover to 1980 levels just one year earlier than predicted if the QPS levels remained constant.

Historically, the largest man-made source of methyl bromide is from fumigation, where about 50,000 tonnes per year were emitted to the atmosphere between 1995 and 1998 from non-quarantine/pre-shipment (non-QPS) methyl bromide use (80 percent of which was largely from soil fumigation) and QPS use (20 percent: largely grain and wood products fumigation at pre-shipment). But since the introduction of the Montreal Protocol restrictions on the consumption of methyl bromide for non-QPS use, this total fumigation source reduced to about 10,000 tonnes by 2012.

While reductions in future total emissions of all ozone depleting substances could significantly hasten ozone recovery, methyl bromide will play a minor role.

It has both man-made and natural sources and according to the report, the scientific understanding of the global methyl bromide budget is not balanced, with current identified sinks (which absorb or break down the chemical) exceeding current identified sources by over 30,000 tonnes – nearly 40 percent of all identified sources. This imbalance has persisted from pre-Montreal Protocol phase-out to recent times (2012), implying there are unidentified, probably natural methyl bromide sources.

“Methyl bromide traditionally, and continues to be the mainstay and one of the most potent weapons against exotic disease incursions, so in other words they’re protecting Australia and Australia, like America and like New Zealand are relatively young countries that don’t have a lot of the diseases that exist in some of the more well-established continents…so we’ve got a lot more to protect,” Bartolo says.

“Virtually all the ozone depletion gains have been courtesy of the reduction of fumigation using methyl bromide but now we’re down the stage where it nearly makes no difference.

“It doesn’t make sense, especially when people’s livelihoods and Australian trade [is on the line]. Our image is clean and green because we haven’t got a lot of diseases and insects and organisms that they have overseas, if we didn’t have methyl bromide, we wouldn’t be able to make that claim.”

[1] P. Fraser FTSE, N. Derek, P. Krummel & Dr P. Steele. (2014). Methyl Bromide: Past, Present & Future Impacts on Stratospheric Ozone, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship.


Biorefineries research project announced

Scientists will work to develop technology that would convert agricultural and forestry by-products into higher value commodities under a new research project.

The research project is part of the Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme, according to Sugar Research Australia CEO, Neil Fisher.’

Fisher said that SRA securing funding for the new collaborative project that would engage leading scientists to develop technology that would convert agricultural and forestry by-products into higher value commodities.

The new project was announced by the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, as he confirmed the successful projects in round one of the new Research and Development for Profit Programme.

“SRA welcomes the commitment from Minister Joyce and the Federal Government for their continued investment in rural R&D and in SRA in particular,” Fisher said.

“This is an exciting and collaborative project that will see SRA as the lead agency working with Forest and Wood Products Australia Limited, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Australia Pork Limited, and the Queensland University of Technology.

“The project also has support from NSW Department of Primary Industries as well as industry support from Southern Oil Refining and AgriFuels Ltd.

“We know that in many agricultural and forestry production systems, there is significant biomass created in the production system that is of low value compared to the core commodity being produced,” Mr Fisher said. “This project will look at how we can add value to products such as cane mulch, cotton stalks and trash material, and forestry by-product.

“The project will investigate using biorefinery methods to convert low value material into higher value products such as animal feed, fuels, fibre, and chemicals.

“For example, benefits for the project could include primary producers being able to reduce their production costs by being able to produce their own bio-fuel, while intensive animal producers could benefit from lower cost feed.

“There is constant pressure on the Australian agricultural system from increasing costs and the drive for greater efficiency. Projects such as this have the potential to set a positive path for the future of crucial primary production industries.”

The project will run over three years and is being funded with $3.09 million in Federal Government grant funds and a matching commitment from the partner organisations.


Australian Pork industry takes the lead for a cleaner environment

The Australian pork industry has become the only agricultural industry to be granted contracts under the federal governments Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

The pork industry has had four successful projects recognised in the federal government’s first ERF auction which represents a commitment of 290,000 tonnes carbon dioxide (CO2) to be abated.

All piggery projects were focused on the capture of biogas which is produced by the anaerobic digestion of organic matter in effluent systems. Effluent is collected from pig sheds and conveyed to an anaerobic treatment system which could be a covered pond or a purpose built digester. The biogas can then be used to displace fossil fuel used for heating or for combined heat and power generation.

The participation of Australian pork producers in the ERF scheme demonstrates the industries proactive approach in adopting renewable energy technology, reducing resource use and the industry’s environmental footprint.

Credits generated through the ERF will assist producers significantly reduce payback periods for implementation of these biogas systems. Over the seven year life of these contracts the emissions reduction will be the equivalent of getting 11,571 houses (four person house) off the grid for one year or if averaged over the seven years, taking 1,653 homes off the grid each year.

Australian Pork Limited CEO Andrew Spencer said, “The results of this first auction highlights the innovative and progressive nature of Australian pork farmers as well as demonstrating the industry is walking the talk when taking responsibility for environmental stewardship and reducing its carbon footprint”.

“The pork industry in Australia only accounts for around 0.4 percent of Australia’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, however mitigation and utilisation of GHG’s not only minimises the industry’s environmental footprint but also acts to offset production costs. Additionally, it significantly assists in reducing odour issues around intensive animal production systems. A win, win situation all round,” Spencer said.

Oakey Beef to install green energy storage orb

Oakey Beef will extract green energy biogas (methane) from its waste water streams to replace natural gas currently consumed at the abattoir.

The 6000m3 capacity storage tank will collect biogas produced by the new Global Water Engineering COHRAL Covered High Rate Anaerobic Lagoon at Oakey Beef Exports on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

The 26m high flexible storage tank – one of the world’s largest of its type – features resilient flexible double membrane storage so that gas produced by the COHRAL plant can be safely stored separately from the gas generator.

Use of the separate flexible tank for gas storage provides security against leakage, with gas securely contained in the tank instead of being more loosely contained under lagoon covers.

The Sattler biogas storage design selected for Oakey Beef has been tested and proven over decades and now is an integral feature in the design of modern waste water treatment plants worldwide. They are engineered to be permanently gas-tight with high operational reliability and optimum safety.

“The safe, durable and environmentally harmonious COHRAL technology deployed at Oakey Beef can be widely applied worldwide to food, beverage and agricultural and primary processing plants,” said CST Wastewater Solutions Managing Director, Michael Bambridge, whose company represents the GWE COHRAL technology in Australia and New Zealand.

“Oakey Beef Processing and its owners Nippon Meat Packers have taken a far-sighted initiative that opens the way to cleaner, greener and more profitable industry performance.”

The COHRAL plant is expected to repay its cost of construction inside five years through gas purchase savings amounting to many millions of dollars – then continue to deliver benefits and profitability virtually in perpetuity, said Oakey Beef Exports Pty Ltd General Manager, Pat Gleeson.

In addition to lowering the plant’s dependence on increasingly expensive supplies of natural gas, the Global Water Engineering anaerobic digestion plant will simultaneously reduce the plant’s carbon footprint and produce waste water far cleaner than typical waste lagoons.

COHRAL technology – which is applicable to both livestock and cropping operations – uses concentrated anaerobic bacteria to digest 70 per cent of the organic matter (COD, or Chemical Oxygen demand) in Oakey Beef Exports’ waste water to produce effluent of far high quality than typical open lagoons.

Bambridge said Oakey’s initiative sets an outstanding precedent for agribusiness in Australia because the cost-effective technology can turn an environmental problem into profit by simultaneously enhancing water quality and lowering fuel bills.

“It also helps companies such as Oakey to guard against future price rises in the cost of energy and possible future imposts such as a carbon tax,” Bambridge said.